Posted by: Nathan | October 17, 2006

Good Monsters: Great Album

Last month Jars of Clay came out with their latest album Good Monsters, and I didn’t give it much thought. Sure, I was relatively curious, but for whatever reason I kinda forgot about it. Then, I went to their website on a whim and heard the first two tracks, and that was more than enough to pique my interest. The next day I bought it, and it’s fantastic.

Every Jars album is distinctive; it’s not often that a Christian band can play so many different genres so well. Good Monsters is yet another new foray for Jars, and I think the word for it is “polished.” The music is full, mature, and intricate. The guitar jangles more than it has before; the lyrics reach a deeper, more consistent depth. It’s great listening.

The first two tracks really set the tone for the disc. “Work” and “Dead Man (Carry Me)” are rock songs that even the most cynical of listeners cannot resist. The downbeat is strong, the riffs are powerful, the melodies are great, and the messages are meaningful and deep. Really, these songs could be secular radio hits. After that, the album never really lets the listener down. “All My Tears” is more overtly Christian but still has a great guitar riff. “Even Angels Cry” is a quieter tune. “There is a River” is reminiscent of the Who We Are Instead praise/country influenced song without the twang. The title track is faster, more rock sounding with tremendous metaphor.

“Oh My God” is terrifically profound and has an great swell. “Surprise” slows it down and addresses despair/hope. “Take Me Higher” (not to be confused with Creed’s “Higher”) sounds more like the Jars of The Eleventh Hour and is enjoyable. “Mirrors and Smoke” is one my favs; it’s some kind of love song, though whether earthly, heavenly or both is up for debate. Also, Leigh Nash of Sixpence None-the-Richer fame guests on it and is great. Then comes “Light Gives Heat,” one of the more lyrically intriguing songs on the disc. It’s definitely politically-themed, ending with an appeal to Christ for wisdom, which I love. Ending the album is “Water Under the Bridge”–another sweeter, slower, encouraging song.

For those of you who listen to music for the lyrics (*cough*Dan*cough*), you won’t be disappointed. Aside from new and more polished sound, Jars has also found profundity in message. Many of the songs require multiple listens to understand them, and even then I know there’s more to be found in the words. Jars really addresses the problem of postmodern despair and Christianity–how can we hope when so many things are so messed up? This is going to be a theme for our generation, so I was blessed to see it explored.

“Examples!” you say? Okay. From “Good Monsters:” “Not all monsters are bad / But the ones who are good / Never do what they could.” From “Surprise”: “Peace is not the heroine that shouts above the cause / And love is wild for reasons / And hope though short in sight / Might be the only thing that wakes you by surprise.” I’ll save the rest.

Do you think Christian music has lost its relevance? Or maybe you believe the opposite, that’s it’s so “relevant” that it’s lost all its meaning? There isn’t a theme left to be explored in Xn music? Christian writers are too simplistic in their worldview? Buy this album and be surprised and overjoyed. A at a 9.2/10. But you don’t have to take my word for it*; listen to three of the tracks on the Jars of Clay website for free.

*Duh duh DUH! (Reading Rainbow-like).

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Responses

  1. Great review. There’s something special about the new Jars album. I know it’ll be in heavy rotation for me for some time to come, and I’ll likely always have a copy in my car..

    Right on with the excellent new directions Jars takes musically here. I love the synthesized background vocals in the bridge of Dead Man (gives me shivers; I’m a dork). The mechanical fuzz and distortion in the first 23 seconds of Take Me Higher are perfect and make that southern rock riff just SOAR when it comes in. Even the four analog beeps kicking off the album lend themselves perfectly to the right atmosphere.

    For those who listen to music for meaningful lyrics there’s still a little frustration to be had. There are some lines where hundreds of listens wouldn’t take you any closer to knowing what the author really meant (if he honestly meant anything at all). There’s nothing wrong with being poetic, in fact I usually prefer it. But vague references to open metaphors don’t often impress me (I prefer real allusions when I can get them). Still, there are many lines where I wouldn’t have a clue as to what they’re SUPPOSED to mean, but they’re so beautiful and jarring, and may have a meaning for me personally (even if it’s wrong) that they impact me greatly and stick me with for hours after listening. I can easily see it ruining the album for some of these lyrics people you reference though.

    Again, great review. You’ve placed the album on a much deserved pedestal. I love the points you made; Christian music could learn a lot from these guys. And sorry for the LONG comment.

  2. Great review!


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